Former Cocky puts service learning to work in new job

Tara Parker no longer dresses as a rooster, but the lessons she learned while serving as Cocky have helped shape her career dreams — dreams that have now begun to come true.

The 2016 University of South Carolina graduate is now the newest member of the community relations department for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Parker recently moved to Tampa, Fla., and applied for the job soon after arriving. “My goal was to try and acquire any sort of position within the department in hopes that I could network and meet various people more heavily involved in the NFL who deal with community relations,” she explains. “As it turns out, this position was absolutely perfectly in alignment with what I was looking for.”

Parker will work with the Buccaneers’ community relations Street Team, which focuses on youth programs.

“I will be able to work Play 60 events with children on game days, as well as various community events throughout the week, which will aim to strengthen the bond further between the Buccaneers and the Tampa Bay community,” Parker says.

For two of her years as a Carolina student, Parker served as Cocky. Most of her mascot duties involved Cocky’s Reading Express, a statewide children’s literacy program, and that experience had a profound effect.

“Through my years working with Cocky’s Reading Express, and previous volunteering programs in high school, I began to realize I love working with the community, and more specifically giving back to youth programs,” she says.

Parker did plenty of giving back while a student, spending more than 200 hours volunteering with Cocky’s Reading Express, helping even when not wearing the costume. She graduated from the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management with a double major in hospitality and retail and a minor in sport and entertainment. She says both academics and volunteer work helped her land her new NFL job.

“The combination of learning how a business runs from a technical standpoint to a customer service based standpoint, and learning the ins and outs of what it is like to work for an entertainment/sports organization has well prepared me,” she says.

Parker says Laura Truell, one of her professors while at South Carolina, encouraged her to apply for the job with the Buccaneers and helped her in the process. She also credited her two bosses during her time as Cocky, Kim Jeffcoat and Christine Shelek, for providing a positive influence.

“They are both so dedicated to giving back to the community and just really great, genuine people,” Parker says of Jeffcoat and Shelek. “Learning how a nonprofit organization operates and works from their eyes and hard work is truly a huge blessing and help.”

The road that led Parker across the stage (wearing her Cocky feet) at Colonial Life Arena in May now takes her on board a pirate ship (one of the most famous features of the Buccaneers’ home stadium). It’s a more colorful journey than most, and Parker says she could not be happier.

“I am just so ecstatic to have this opportunity to do something that I love, and continue to follow my dreams to one day become a director of community relations for a major sports organization.”

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